Revolutions in Thought - Part One: Entailment

January 20, 2020

“If you want the truth—I know I presume—you must look into the technology of these matters . . . . You must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control? You think you know, you cling to your beliefs. But sooner or later you will have to let them go . . .”

— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow


Future events are unpredictable the further they are spatiotemporally from an initial known state: the “closer” a predicted state is, the more definitively it may be relied upon (assuming the conditions under which the event may come to pass are themselves well known). Drop a pen above a table in a gravitic environment with no wind, no agentive presence, and no other mechanism that may interfere with its trajectory, and necessarily the pen must collide with the table in the near-immediate future. The distance and location of the drop point relative to the table can be used with some precision to predict whether the pen will come to rest upon the table itself or fly off at an angle from its surface.

Say now that we leave the pen in some environment. Its pose becomes more unpredictable inversely to the degree of control we have over the environment itself, again including any agencies that may pass through the setting. For example, instructing some well-regimented passersby not to touch or otherwise allow the pen to be moved from its resting place increases—but does not guarantee—that the pen will remain in a predictable pose. By contrast, if it were left in a public place away from controlled conditions, very little can be effectively estimated about its future state.

Predictability of future state therefore relies heavily on control, which itself relies deeply on one’s capacity to enact logical consequence, or “logical entailment”: to accomplish well-predicted states, one must extend control beyond the person and onto their surroundings, thereby reducing uncertainty by constraining the variables of a scenario in a reasoned way. If an environment were perfectly controlled, we may say that it is perfectly entailed by the controller: the entailer has derived and/or enforced some set of programs (i.e. a system of logically-consecutive state mutations) that exhaustively define any translation or transformation that may occur within or among the environment, and all sources of unpredictability are either eliminated or their effects are completely accounted for within said programs. In such a case, what freedom exists is alloted only to the controller, and control—a purely notional element—has been firmly and deeply extended beyond the person and projected onto the external world.

In the case of the pen, it may be straightforward to entail all things that may reasonably act upon it, thereby making the pen itself entailed: as described above, the controller may simply reduce all possible forces that have access to it and well define which ways the pen may be acted upon. Behind lock and key, the pen is safe; in the wild, it is at risk of being damaged or lost.

Of course, as the system becomes more complex, the entailing strategy becomes more difficult to delineate and/or reinforce. The environment, one or more of its constituent elements, or the subject of control itself may have no concern whatsoever for being logically definable or accountable to the degree demanded by exhaustive control. Which leads to the question: can all things be entailed? And, indeed, should all things be entailed?

To answer these questions, perhaps it is worth examining the nature of logical consequence itself, viewing it not as a source of ground truth but as one of many possible mentation strategies. The entailing motive, broadly speaking, is the foundation of scientific thought: to reduce or remove conflating elements, isolate a behavior, define it, and predict the outcomes under variable stimuli. It, without question, is responsible for many of the highest material accomplishments collectively reached by humanity.

However, can these same principles of entailment be cleanly applied to immaterial subjects? Can a person—or a society—be controlled to force outcomes? Common sense would dictate that this, in fact, is dubious, the product of whatever one would call the opposite of quixotic. Game theory too is of little help toward such a goal, for who can truthfully assume that the world is filled with rational actors? If all conditions surrounding a pen were controlled except for the introduction of a randomly-selected person into the environment, the outcome of the pen is now uncertain. Even if the person were instructed to interact with the pen in well-specified ways, they are still a variable that cannot be fully accounted for in the way that we may rely on, for example, our knowledge of gravity and physics to automate the slingshot procedure of a probe being flung toward the edge of the solar system.

The entailing motive could look upon such a person and try forcing constraint upon them, perhaps by surveilling them, collecting measurement after measurement, modeling away more and more degrees of freedom of their person, or perhaps by simply exerting some leveraged position to attempt to enforce conformity and predictability. Concerns of voyeurism or control-freakism aside, this still would not provide the guarantees that inanimate material existence affords: maybe the person will move the pen out of spite or just to fuck with the controller, maybe they do not care or understand the importance of what’s being asked of them, etc. Free will may always stymie the entailing motive’s attempts at control.

Perhaps there is a competing entailing motive in the other agency, in which case game theory more obviously applies: two or more actors engaging in some logically-definable game. But what if the actions undertaken by an actor do not fit the expectations of traditional engagement? Can this agency still be cleanly modeled? If not, does free will inform action purely in opposition to the attempts at entailment? That is, can these misbehaviors (as viewed from the perspective of the controlling observer) themselves be entailed, can they be fully accounted for among a controlling program, or at least defined as a negation of the logic itself, an obstinancy, moving always contrary to expectation or instruction? If not, are these actions then absolutely undefinable, a nonsense, a chaos, a disorder… or, are they instead outside the purview of entailing thought?

Logical consequentialism is not innate, as anyone can see in the development of a child: it would be unusual to encounter an infant with deep knowledge of object permanence, causality, game-theoretic strategies (the presence of such givens would be more insectile than mammalian). And yet we can still identify within them personality and other relatable patterns of thought such as, for example, fear and love. So, there must necessarily exist notional elements outside of entailing thinking.

From the controlling perspective, these extra-logical occurrences may express at times and at places not logically predictable, perhaps even being seen as having the appearance of chance or circumstance should they result in advantage for the aberrant agency. We may therefore call such a manifestation an adventition, that is, an event coming from a source foreign to entailment, arising either sporadically or in unexpected places (as viewed from the entailing perspective)1.

A forthcoming post will explore more the difference between entailment and adventition, and how this distinction may help contextualize various underdefined experiences in everyday life.

[1] It’s worth noting that adventition is defined in relation to entailment, but that does not mean that it is itself entailed. I would argue that distinguishment (or conception) is the foundation of logic, in which case labeling is merely a vehicle of convenience for entailing thought, so any titles are necessarily in service to entailment. If a notional element exists outside logical ontology, we can neither discern nor label it within any logical system: the closest definition that can be had is to relate it to the defining system itself. As it had been intimated earlier, it may be that some modes of adventitious thinking have little concern for logical consequentialism.